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A production of the Southern Foodways Alliance, GRAVY tells new and complicated stories about the changing American South.

May 18, 2022

In “Genealogy of a Bakery,” Gravy producer Irina Zhorov takes listeners up into the mountains of western North Carolina, to a town called Marshall and a property that’s been used as a bakery for more than two decades. 

The little building with a metal roof and ovens with more than sixty square feet of stone hearth has been home to some of the most exciting baking in the country. It’s one of the places where naturally leavened, rustic breads gained a foothold in the South, where two artisanal flour mills got their start, and where multiple incredible bakers honed their craft. 

It started with Jennifer Lapidus, who fell in love with naturally leavened, Flemish loaves and learned how to bake them in a wood-fired oven under California baker Alan Scott. She moved into the property in Marshall, and made one of the two buildings her home, and the other, Natural Bridge Bakery. Lighting the oven fire, shaping dough, baking, transporting firewood—she gained mastery as she evolved with the property. 

After a decade of living and working in Marshall, Lapidus turned the bakery over to David Bauer, who opened his own business, Farm and Sparrow, before turning to milling. After David came Tara Jensen and her bakery, Smoke Signals, which she also operated as a classroom. At the end of 2018, Brennan Johnson moved in. Soon after, the pandemic hit. Johnson would be Lapidus’ last tenant. 

The new owners, Cogswell and DiTomo, bought the place in 2020. Both come from the restaurant world—in 2018, Cogswell was named Rising Star Chef by the James Beard Foundation for her pastry work at Zahav in Philadelphia. The following year the owners of Zahav tapped her to open a new restaurant, but at the beginning of the pandemic, Cogswell was let go. She visited her family in Asheville and saw an Instagram post about the sale of the bakery. In the course of a day, she and DiTomo formulated a vision for their life there. 

In some ways, they are following the same path as the bakers that came before them. They sought it out at a time of transition and moved in with their own dreams, ready to shape the place and let it shape them.

In this episode, Zhorov talks to the new bakery owner Camille Cogswell about her vision for the future; the original owner, Jennifer Lapidus, who shares her own journey to the property and beyond; and the bakery tenants in between, including David Bauer, Tara Jensen, and Brennan Johnson. Each baker gives insight into the rhythms, challenges, and promises of living and working around a wood-fired oven.